The address sign at 122 Nuttall Road

The village of Riverside has filed a lawsuit to force a local homeowner to remove an address monument sign built without a permit and on village property in late 2014.

The two-count lawsuit, filed in the Municipal Division of Cook County Circuit Court on Dec. 28, 2015, asks the court to order Kevin McGrath to remove the roughly 3-by-6 foot stone monument from the public way in front of his Nuttall Road home or allow the village to remove it at McGrath’s expense.

It also asks the court to impose fines in the amount of $750 per day for every day the non-compliant sign has existed — since at least Nov. 25, 2014.

Village President Ben Sells declined to comment on the lawsuit. An attempt to reach McGrath via email was unsuccessful.

Last summer, the Riverside Village Board became involved in the matter after officials from public works and the community development department learned that the sign had been erected in violation of village codes.

Responding to a complaint from a Riverside resident, officials concluded that McGrath failed to obtain a building permit to erect the sign. In addition, McGrath built the sign on village-owned land.

McGrath told the village board he was unaware that the contractor that he used had failed to obtain a permit and said he had no idea that the land where the sign was placed wasn’t his.

In November 2015, McGrath appeared before the village board to request an easement from the village, saying he would indemnify the village by taking out an insurance policy in order to keep the sign in place.

But that was a month after the village board had voted 4 to 2 to deny McGrath an after-the-fact hardscape permit for the sign. In May 2015, the board voted 4 to 3 to deny the permit, but then immediately voted to reconsider the matter and delayed final action until October. 

The land where the sign is located is on the house-side of the public sidewalk. In most communities, that would mean the property belonged to the homeowner. However, in Riverside residential property lines often fall several feet short of the sidewalk. In the case of the address sign in front of the McGrath home, the property line falls 10 feet short of the sidewalk.

The sign, according to the lawsuit, was built six feet beyond the McGrath property line, on the public right-of-way.

That meandering public property line is intentional and was part of the village’s original plan. In the pamphlet “Riverside in 1871” published by the Riverside Improvement Company in that year, the village’s founders stated that residences must be “located at least 30 feet back from the front of the lot line, which 30 feet must be retained as an open court or door yard.

“It will be seen at a glance that these restrictions are a sure guarantee to every purchaser that no improvement can be made that will in the least detract from the beauty of his own, and will at the same time add materially to the general beauty of the entire neighborhood,” the pamphlet stated.

Between the time the Riverside Improvement Company went bankrupt in 1873 and the establishment of a basic zoning code in 1922, the founders’ intentions with regard to maintaining open vistas in residential areas were in some cases completely disregarded.

As a result, there are a number of instances where “hardscape” — from large decorative concrete planters to stone retaining walls — can be found scattered throughout the village within the public right of way.

 Even today, exactly where property lines are located, even if you’re holding a plat of survey and a tape measure, remains a bit of a guess for Riverside homeowners.

Village Manager Jessica Frances sent a letter to the McGraths on Oct. 5, 2015 notifying them of the village board’s denial of the hardscape permit and stated the monument sign had to be removed by Nov. 5.

Kevin McGrath responded via email saying “nothing will be removed” and threatened the village with a “high-dollar lawsuit” if the village removed it.

“You let other property owners do as they please and pick on me,” McGrath said in his email to Frances dated Oct. 5, 2015. The email is part of the court record.

On Nov. 30, 2015, the village attorney, Michael Marrs, sent a letter to the McGraths reiterating the village board’s decision and giving them until Dec. 13 to remove the sign or “the village will be forced to take action to remove the structure.” 

The lawsuit was filed two weeks later. The next court date is Feb. 26.